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Covid-19 curfew forces airlines to alter flight schedules

Wendy Knowler Consumer journalist
Passengers booked on early morning flights on Tuesday did not have enough time to reach airports due to the latest curfew imposed by the government. Stock image.
Passengers booked on early morning flights on Tuesday did not have enough time to reach airports due to the latest curfew imposed by the government. Stock image.
Image: 123RF/anyaberkut

Airlines and passengers were left reeling by President Cyril Ramaphosa's announcement of a 9pm to 6am curfew “with immediate effect”, which affected many scheduled flights early on Tuesday.

For passengers who could not make it to an airport before check-in cut-off for an early flight, and who were unable to make contact with the airline concerned, it was a particularly frustrating morning.

Lerato (@wonderlust009) was one of them. She tweeted: “Kulula booking at 8.10am to George (for three). Could not reach on time due to curfew. Tried call centre, no reply. Now what do I do? Website flight status stated no flights today. No reply on any platform.”

Kulula later responded: “Due to the newly imposed daily curfew, there will be an impact on our flight schedule. Affected customers will be re-accommodated and contacted in due course. Thank you for your patience and understanding.”

Most airlines responded by saying they would push flights to 8am or later in the morning, allowing passengers an hour of legal travel time between 6am and 7am to get to an airport, check in and board flights, and ensure they had no arrivals after 8pm every day to give passengers an hour of legal travel time after disembarking from flights. 

FlySafair’s chief marketing officer Kirby Gordon said the airline was shifting its flights into curfew windows in some cases, “but where that is not possible, we may well need to combine other flights to complete the schedule”.

“Our customers are all being kept up to date using e-mail and SMS, using the details provided when bookings were made, and via regular updates to our social media channels.

“All passengers whose flight times are being changed by ourselves - as a result of the curfews - are permitted either completely free changes or full voucher refunds [valid for 12 months].

“We are also easing restrictions for customers who are voluntarily electing to no longer travel. All customers can make penalty-free changes, although fare differences will be charged where applicable, or they can bank their flights as vouchers less the standard R300 change fee.”

SA's newest domestic airline, Lift, which took to the skies earlier this month operating between Johannesburg, Cape Town and George, found the sudden new curfew to be less disruptive.

“We were very lucky because none of our flights today or tomorrow were impacted by the curfew,” said CEO Jonathan Ayache.

“We are reaching out to customers who are affected from Thursday by early morning flight changes, but the beauty of our flexibility model is that customers can go onto our website and change their bookings themselves, or cancel them altogether, at no extra cost up to 24 hours before their flight.

"If it’s less than 24 hours, the cost is R250.”

GET IN TOUCH: Wendy Knowler specialises in consumer journalism. You can reach her via e-mail: consumer@knowler.co.za or on Twitter: @wendyknowler

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